Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Force for Unity in Polarizing Times

Any election brings change—some more than others. But change is something that AFP always is prepared for, particularly when it comes to public policy. Regardless of who is president, or which party is in control of Congress, we view fundraising, philanthropy, and charity as nonpartisan. We work to ensure that all parties and officials understand and support philanthropy because it is a symbol and a tradition that cuts across all ideologies and ultimately, brings good to all Americans.

It’s an important principle that becomes even more critical in the aftermath of one of the most politically polarizing and exhausting elections ever. We shouldn’t forget that the charitable sector has long been a key force for bringing people together—to build bridges to understanding and to encourage cooperation and collaboration. Philanthropy creates common ground. We can agree upon causes worth supporting or a vital program or service that needs funding. Through philanthropy, we often realize that we have more in common than we think.

In that spirit, AFP will continue to work with all political parties to preserve and promote the extraordinary, long-standing tradition of philanthropy in America, Canada, and other parts of the globe.

We'll be reaching out to all new Members of Congress to educate them about the importance of philanthropy, as well as talking with Senate Finance and House Ways and Means staff about the prospects of tax reform in 2017.

President-elect Trump has already indicated his interest in revamping the tax code, although his initial tax plan, while vague on some details, appeared to not directly limit the charitable deduction. However, his plan did increase the impact of the Pease Limitation on itemized deductions, including the charitable deduction, for certain taxpayers. This penalty for high-income taxpayers could result in a decrease in charitable giving. In a letter sent earlier this year, AFP urged Mr. Trump and other presidential candidates to reconsider the inclusion of the increased Pease Limitation in their tax plans. We’ll be sending him another letter in the near future, discussing again the importance of philanthropy and charitable giving incentives.

What ultimately emerges from the White House and Congress in terms of tax policy is anyone’s guess at this point, but we will be ready. AFP will be busy on Capitol Hill over the next several months, and we’ll need your help on the grassroots level as well. I encourage all AFP members to reach out to their members of Congress, especially individuals just recently elected, and educate them about the importance of philanthropy. We’ll be developing some talking points and guidance on talking with your legislators about these issues.

Regardless of the election results, our work must continue: ensuring that public policy reflects the importance of fundraising and philanthropy in our society.

Democracy works best when people work together and strive to have a positive impact on our communities. And that is your strength—your ability to reach out to different groups and unite our governments and our leaders around an environment supportive of giving, volunteering, and fundraising. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Politics and Policy in the U.S., Canada

One of the most critical principles that AFP espouses is that philanthropy should be nonpartisan. Everyone should support philanthropy, regardless of party affiliation or political ideology. If giving and volunteering ever becomes the province of just one particular party, whether it’s in the U.S., Canada or anywhere, then we will have failed in our work.

In the U.S., a bill has been introduced that would allow charities to speak about political issues and endorse candidates for public office. Passage of this legislation would mark a huge turn in how charities operate in the public space. While we’re often supportive of giving the sector more latitude in how it interacts and works with government, such a proposal is fraught with peril.

Think of the consequences for charities, which serve communities and people regardless of ideology, supporting certain candidates. What happens to charities when they endorse a particular candidate, alienating some of the population who might ordinarily want to support their mission?

Philanthropy and the charitable sector should help bring people together, not tear them apart. That is what we strive to do in our government relations programs, uniting members, donors, our sister organizations and the general public in pushing for changes that sustain and enhance giving. For example, the Charitable Giving Coalition recently sent letters to presidential candidates (scroll down to “One Last Thing”) urging them to keep the charitable deduction in their tax plans. Our work is on a bi-partisan basis.

The same is true in Canada. Over the last ten years, AFP has made great strides in successfully lobbying for public policy changes that have increased giving and given charities more options in their fundraising campaigns. We’ve seen the capital gains tax exemption extended to gifts of stock and the creation of the first-government sponsored National Philanthropy Day. Our success has been the result of working with ALL parties and convincing them to support our positions.

Our work continues this year. We just participated in the second Parliament Hill Day with Imagine Canada and other sector partners, and when I’m visiting the Edmonton Chapter in November, I’ll be meeting with MP Amarjeet Sohi, the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities for Canada. We’ll be discussing how AFP can help strengthen communities throughout the country and what kind of policy fundraisers and charities need to inspire more donors and volunteers.

On the regulatory level, the Canada Revenue Agency is reviewing and modernizing its rules on permitted and prohibited political activities by charities. Registered charities are allowed to engage in non-partisan political activities within certain limits. They are not allowed to engage in partisan political activities.

As part of its review process, the CRA is asking for feedback from charities and the public on its current rules and what parts need to clarified and/or modified, and what’s the best way to communicate any changes to the sector. AFP will be submitting comments to the CRA, and I encourage your organizations to engage with this consultation process as well.

Engaging with and lobbying our government and elected officials is a right we must always fight for, anywhere in the world. But at the same time, we should be very careful about moving into outright political electioneering and other campaign activities that would imperil our ability to reach out to donors and support the people who depend on our programs and service.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Election in the Spotlight, But Policy Discussions Continue

The traditional thinking is that a U.S. presidential election typically slows down work in Congress, especially with all Representatives and one-third of Senators up for re-election as well. This week in particular, all eyes in Washington were on the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

But that doesn’t mean a lot of work isn’t going on behind the scenes, and AFP has been keeping in touch with Congressional staff throughout the summer and into the fall. We’ve met with Members’ personal offices, as well as with staff from the House Ways and Means Committee. We discussed preserving the existing charitable deduction, and perhaps expanding it by allowing individuals and families who do not itemize their taxes to still take a deduction for charitable gifts (the non-itemizer deduction).

The response was generally positive. Most offices are very supportive of the charitable deduction and don’t want to do anything to harm charitable giving. And from our conversations, it looks as if most of the conversation about tax matters in 2017 will focus on corporate and international taxes.

But there are also a lot of ideas circulating around about changes to the tax code, including potential modifications to itemized deductions and the treatment of non-cash gifts. Congress is examining all sorts of proposals, and as we look forward to next year, we must be ready to assess these new ideas and determine their impact on giving and the charitable sector.

Other issues continue to percolate as well. The House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee recently held a hearing looking at how colleges and universities use their endowment funds, and if institutions with large endowments should be required to use a certain portion of them on tuition reimbursements or other items. Legislation is expected later this year.

And with the government possibly headed towards a shutdown unless Congress and the President can agree on a spending bill soon, AFP is being extra careful in monitoring these negotiations in case last-minute provisions get added that might affect philanthropy.

Meanwhile, our legislative work continues unabated in Canada, Mexico and other countries. In Canada, for example, fresh off the success of the first Charities Day on the Hill event in April last year, we’ll be participating in another similar event on October 18, this one being led by our partners at Imagine Canada. I’ll let you know how that goes and what we hear from legislators in Ottawa.

We’ll keep members posted as new issues and proposals arise, and please contact Michael Nilsen, our vice president for public affairs, if policy on the chapter and state/provincial level becomes critical.

And finally, I encourage all U.S. members, regardless of party affiliation, to vote in this year’s election. It’s an important civic duty of every citizen, and a critical way we keep our public office holders accountable to us, the people.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Broadening Who We Are...And Our Impact

This was an unusual summer for me – and for all of us at AFP International. With all the change AFP has been undergoing, we had a unique opportunity to use the more deliberate pace of the summer months to think critically about the AFP we are today, and to plan creatively for the AFP we want to be in the future.

We have initiated conversations with new friends and loyal mentors to talk about AFP’s position—and potential—in an evolving philanthropic sector. Members, peers and sector influencers had important things to tell us about our relevance and our influence. These candid conversations helped us refine our strategic priorities for the next three years in categories such as Education, Ethics and Advocacy, Capacity-Building and Diversity and Inclusion.  They even influence the language we’ll adopt later in the fall for our mission and vision statements, as well as our guiding principles.

One of the key principles we’ve gathered from these conversations is the sense that the AFP community has to be broader than what we are right now—both in terms of people and ideas. There is a heightened sense of urgency in our community to keep pace with social innovators who are upending traditional philanthropy by infusing unprecedented funds into charitable issues. The words “fundraising” and “fundraiser” carry connotations that don’t necessarily represent the knowledge, ethics and impact of the work our members do.  It doesn’t represent the sense of personal responsibility many AFP members and others feel about acquiring more knowledge, more experience and exercising more creativity to advance the promise of Good the world over.

That principle is already being integrated into some of our programs—like our annual Leadership Academy happening next month in October. We’ll continue our tradition of meetings to support chapter leaders in their important work, but we’re also transitioning the Academy into an experience that addresses contemporary leadership and professional career development challenges sector-wide. We want to help newcomers to the profession with education and empowerment to pursue an ambitious career path, while also supporting seasoned professionals in building the kinds of skills that position them to advance into CEO and board leadership posts.

It’s not just about members raising more money—it’s about being able to serve as fundraising literacy ambassadors who can influence cultures of philanthropy within their own organizations.

It’s not too late to register for our 2016 Leadership Academy in Portland, Oregon, October 20-22.  You don’t have to be an AFP member to register (but members receive a substantial discount…think about it!)

You’re going to see more of this sort of thinking in the coming months. After several months of research, we have now tremendously valuable insights about the way members see AFP’s unique value proposition.  I want to thank all of you who participated in our focus groups and online surveys. This new data on the DNA of AFP informs the way we will build on our brand equity and represent the true contributions we make to the profession and to philanthropy in general.  You’ll hear more on this in the months ahead as we cultivate a brand promise that speaks to our role as catalysts for philanthropy.

Let’s keep the dialogue going, and I look forward to seeing you in October.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Visualizing the Overhead Costs Issue

It’s been great to see the movement over the last several years in the overheads costs discussion. Watchdog groups and others have come out saying that overhead costs aren’t a good measure of impact, and more and more research shows that charities and nonprofits investing in infrastructure and overhead—human relations, board support, technology, and other direct and indirect expenses—can be quite successful and well positioned for future success.

But we still have a long way to go in communicating our argument to the giving public. The idea that overhead and fundraising costs somehow measure impact and success seems to be deeply ingrained in many donors, government officials, the media and others.

Ask any marketer—as strong as our arguments are, sometimes you need something simple, something visual, something that gets quickly and easily to the core of your idea.

That’s why I’m really impressed with Curtis Klotz’ recent blog about new ways to “visualize” the overhead costs issue. Instead of the standard pie chart, where fundraising and administrative costs fall into their usual slivers of the budget, his concentric circles demonstrate how every project and program charities run are dependent upon all types of costs and overhead. We see the true costs of programs in a very quick way that’s easy to take in.

I hope this sort of visual catches on, and I encourage you and your organization to consider using it. It’s representative of the sort of innovative thinking we need as we work to educate people about overhead costs and other tough, yet important issues.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Strong Year in 2015: What Lies Ahead?

For the second consecutive year, the annual Giving USA report brings us very good news.

As you have probably seen by now, data from Giving USA 2016 reports that total giving grew by four percent in 2015 to more than $373 billion. Coupled with the six percent growth in 2014, total giving has increased by more than 10 percent over the last two years.

Those are numbers that would have been difficult to imagine even just a couple of years ago. But for the second consecutive year, giving has reached a new record high and far surpassed levels seen before the recession.

While not every organization has seen such tremendous growth in giving, the impact on the overall sector is undeniable. The sector, and all of philanthropy, is in much better shape than it was at the beginning of the decade and has recovered far more quickly than anyone expected.

Nevertheless, challenges remain. Despite the increases over the past two years, giving has remained at about two percent of Gross Domestic Product, as it has for most of the past 50 years. It is a reminder that we have a ways to go to reach giving levels that will allow us to not just ameliorate, but solve the problems we face today.

 There is also concern that giving this year may drop. The rate of giving in 2015 was lower than in 2014, and some experts see an even greater drop this year, especially as we head into the latter part of 2016.

We will need to use all of our accumulated fundraising knowledge and skills to ensure we have another successful year in 2016. And Giving USA 2016 is a great resource to use. Not only does it have year-by-year statistics, but contains a variety of great information about giving and highlights key trends you can use in your own fundraising efforts.

AFP members get a 30 percent discount off of Giving USA products.  You can find the discount code here on the AFP website, along with more resources and perspective about the latest giving numbers.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

To Serve You Better

It’s been a busy time at AFP – and elsewhere in the world.  We’re seeing so many examples of how the nonprofit sector and fundraisers are such a valued commodity in our communities.  From heatwaves and wildfires in the Canadian and U.S. west, to major flooding in Texas, and the brutal attack on the night club in Orlando, so many of the nonprofit organizations our members represent are coming together to provide support, comfort and to rebuild devastated communities.  Fundraisers and their colleagues are on the front lines every day, addressing crises large and small.  Let me take a moment to recognize all that you do to bring compassion, empathy and services to people who are in need.

With that in mind, I want to talk for a moment about what we are doing to serve you better in the wake of several significant transitions at AFP.  We are working diligently to create an environment that enhances stability and promotes managed growth.  Our core programs remain strong and we’re moving ahead with our strategic plan that advances our commitment to education, to diversity and inclusion, to advocacy and ethics and to capacity-building for the future. There are no plans for a future reduction in force.  We are proud of our staff and making a conscious decision to invest in their professional development and careers.

We have made a concerted effort to streamline our budget and to evaluate programs and opportunity carefully against criteria for measurable returns on our investment.  We need to consistently benchmark progress against revenue goals and advancement of strategies for education, diversity, ethics and advocacy and investment.  This is not simply in response to our annual summer cash flow issue; it is, in fact, a new culture of accountability and continuous refinement of our business approaches.

You’ll hear us talk more and more about value and the member experience. As we move forward with our plans for Leadership Academy in Portland in 2016, the International Fundraising Conference in San Francisco in 2017, our web and database upgrades, new educational offerings and other projects, we are calling on chapter leaders, volunteers and partners to join in on ways to define and deliver exceptional value in those areas.

We’ve already started bringing more people to the table to start Big Conversations about where AFP is going and how we are going to get there:
  • AFP Ethics Committee recently held its June call where it reviewed pending cases and considered revisions to our hypothetical case studies.
  • We hosted the Conference Education Advisory Committee (EAC) to review nearly 500 submissions for educational sessions at the 2017 International Conference. As part of the review, we engaged in a holistic discussion of the educational experience the conference offers, and thought through strategies to bring more relevant learning opportunities to more people in our sector.
  • We welcomed the ACFRE Board to the office for discussions around key issues such as candidate recruitment and the internationalization of the credential.
  • I participated in the Grow Charity Now event on Capitol Hill where 40+ attendees met with various congressional offices about charitable giving incentives and other public policy matters related to philanthropy.
  • Our volunteer-driven brand and mission/vision research projects are nearing an end and we are eager to hear results and recommendations detailed in July.  In advance of the big reveal, I can share with you that both are calling on AFP to present itself in a more aspirational, inspirational and human voice.
  • With the engagement and endorsement of the Marketing and Communications Committee, we have awarded a bid to a web developer and work will begin shortly on our web revitalization project.  We are planning soft launch of the site’s Phase One improvements t the conference in San Francisco in the spring.  More than 3,000 AFP members have volunteered for web project committees and user testing!  Web improvements coincide with our Personify upgrade that promises better, cleaner use of data.
I hope you will feel free to reach out to me or to our senior staff if you have ideas or questions about  AFP and our path forward.  If you plan to be at the October Leadership Academy or the 2017 International Fundraising Conference in San Francisco in April, or any of several gatherings we’ll be at in between, let’s connect and say hello.  I would love to hear what you are thinking about AFP and how we can continue to enhance our value to the members and the fundraising profession.

Thank you for all that you do for AFP, your chapters, and the profession. I look forward to working with all of you in my new capacity.

Jason